Computers have become quite good at speaking.
You can also buy a talking car that tells you when it needs an oil change, a talking bathroom scale
that makes cynical comments about how much your weight's gone up since yesterday, and many
other talking devices. You can even buy Coke from a talking vending machine that invites you to
deposit your coins and then says "Thank you".
Talking watch
Whenever I want to find out the time, I just press a button on my wrist watch, and its computer
voice proudly proclaims the time in perfect English. Whenever I get lonely at night and want
somebody to talk to me, I just press the watch's button and thrill to the sound of its soothing
It also acts as the world's most humane alarm clock. Instead of giving an awful ring, its human
voice says, "Attention, please! It's 7:30AM." Then it plays some jazzed up Bach.
If I'm still sleepy and ignore the alarm, five minutes later it will say, "Attention, please! It's
7:35AM. Please hurry." It will also subject me to some more Bach. It will keep reminding me
every five minutes, until I'm awake enough to turn off the alarm.
You can buy the Vox Watch at Radio Shack for $39.95.
Reading to the blind
The most impressive talking device ever invented is the Kurzweil Reading Machine, which reads
books to the blind.
It looks like a photocopying machine. Just lay a book on top of the machine, and the machine
reads the book to you, even if the book is laid down crookedly and has dirt on it and has multiple
columns and photos and uses weird type.
When it was invented many years ago, it used to cost $50,000. Then the price dropped to
$20,000. Then the price dropped even lower, but it still costs more than the average blind person
can afford. To use such a machine, you must either be rich or live near a library owning the
Most blind people who are computerized use cheaper devices instead: an IBM PC clone
supplemented by a scanner, voice synthesizer, and cheap software.
Can computers listen?
Though computers are good talkers, they're not good listeners.
No computer's been invented yet that will replace your secretary and let you dictate a letter to it.
The computer devices currently on the market have tiny vocabularies, require you to pause after
every word, and need to be "trained" to understand your accent.

Computerized music is advancing rapidly. Now you can sit down at a portable piano-style
keyboard (light enough to carry in one hand), bang out a tune, feed the tune to a computer, and
have the computer edit out your errors, play the tune back using the tone qualities of any
instrument you wish (or even a whole orchestra), and print the score on paper.
Such developments are shaking up the entire music industry.
When you watch a TV commercial or movie, the background music that sounds like a beautiful
orchestra or band is often produced by just a single person sitting at a computerized music
synthesizer. The imitation of orchestral instruments is so exact that even professional musicians
can't hear the difference. As a result, whole orchestras of musicians are now unemployed.
Music synthesizers come in two categories. One kind's cheap ($25 to $500) and easy to use, but
produces sounds that are tinny. The other kind produces beautiful sounds but costs a lot ($500 to
$20,000) and is harder to learn to master. Programmers are trying to meld those two categories
together. I wish they'd hurry up!
Ultimate Music Machine
Musicians, programmers, and engineers are working together to create the Ultimate Music
Machine, which makes all other musical instruments obsolete. You can buy all its parts at your
local computer and music stores, but the software and hardware that connects the parts is
awkward. I expect some company will eventually build an assembled version that you just plug
into the wall for immediate fun.
Part 1: the tone-quality creator The Ultimate Music Machine can imitate all other musical
instruments. To make it imitate an instrument, play a few notes of that instrument into the
machine's microphone. The machine makes a digital recording of the instrument, analyzes the
recording, and stores the analysis on a 31/2-inch floppy disk.
The machine's analysis is quite sophisticated. For example, it realizes that a violin note has a
vibrato (because the violinist's finger wiggles), that each piano note begins with a bang and ends
with a hum, and that the piano's bass notes sound "fatter" than the treble notes (because the bass
notes are made from different kinds of strings).
The machine lets you edit the analysis, to create totally new tone qualities, such as "piolin" (which
is a compromise between a piano and a violin).
When you buy the machine, it comes with recordings of the most popular instruments, and lets
you add your own and edit them. It also lets you use fundamental waveforms (such as sine waves,
square waves, and triangle waves), which act as building blocks for inventing sounds that are

Part 2: the note creator The machine includes a piano-style keyboard (with black and white notes
on it). To feed the machine a melody, tap the melody on the keyboard. You can also play chords.
The machine notices which notes you strike the hardest, so it records your accents.
The machine includes a pitch-bend dial, which you turn to make the notes slide up the scale, like a
slide trombone.
If you're not good at the keyboard, use the machine's screen instead, which displays a musical staff
and lets you move notes onto the staff by using a mouse. You can also use the mouse to edit any
errors you made on the keyboard, and to create repetitions and increase the tempo.
If you fear mice and keyboards, just sing into the machine's microphone. The machine notices
which notes you've sung and records them.
If you're too lazy to create a melody or harmony, the machine creates its own. Its built-in
computer analyzes your favorite music, notices its rhythms, note transitions, and harmonic
structures, and then composes its own music in the same style.
Part 3: output The machine plays the editing music through stereo speakers. As the music plays,
the complete score moves across the screen, in traditional music notation. The machine also prints
the score on paper. Yes, the machine prints a complete score showing how you sang into the mike
or tickled the keys!
Vendors The Ultimate Music Machine is built from music synthesizers. The most popular
synthesizers are made by four Japanese companies: Casio, Roland, Yamaha, and Korg. Their
synths cost from $25 to $3000 and contain tiny computers. For extra computing power, attach a
Macintosh computer by using a Musical Instrument Digital Interface cable (MIDI cable). To print
pretty scores cheaply, add Deluxe Music Construction Set, a Mac program published by
Electronics Arts for under $50.

Advanced multimedia
Multimedia is the attempt to make your personal computer overwhelm your senses by feeding you
text, music, voice, graphics, animation, and video movies on the screen all simultaneously! To do
that well, you need a fast computer (at least an Intel 486 or a Mac 68040) with a CD-ROM drive
and circuitry to handle sounds well.
Microsoft's most famous example of multimedia is Microsoft Encarta. It's a CD-ROM disk whose
1997 version includes:
the complete text of the 29-volume Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia, supplemented by 1000 extra
articles (so you get 30,000 articles altogether)
 a 65,000-word dictionary
8 hours of sound (organized into 1600 sound clips)
written & spoken samples of 60 languages
7500 photos & illustrations
100 video clips & animations
800 maps
1500 links from the articles to the Internet's World Wide Web
Using Encarta is fun: using your mouse, just click on whatever topic on the screen interests you
and - whammo! - you see it and hear it. Discount dealers sell it for just $40.
You can also get a souped-up version, called Microsoft Encarta Deluxe Edition, which includes:
two CD-ROM disks (instead of 1)
1800 sound clips (instead of 1600)
14,000 photos & illustrations (instead of 7500)
150 video clips & animations (instead of 100)
4000 Web links (instead of 1500).
Discount dealers sell it for $75.
Cinemania & beyond
Inspired by Encarta's success, Microsoft has gone on to develop other multimedia titles that are
more specific. For example, Cinemania is a CD-ROM whose 1997 version includes:
info on 20,000 movies, with reviews by Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Baseline
info on 10,000 directors, writers, actors, & other film folk, including biographies of the 4,500
most important
30 video clips, 150 famous sound bytes ("dialog clips"), and 1000 movie stills
It costs just $20 ($30 minus $10 rebate). I wish the title didn't sound like "sin-o-mania", though
most movies are indeed about the manic enjoyment of sin.
Microsoft has also done multimedia titles on topics such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
(including detailed analysis of the music, the man, and his times), Stravinsky's Rite of Spring,
works by Mozart & Schubert, London's National Gallery of Art, and baseball lore.
Create your own
Though using multimedia created by companies such as Microsoft can be fun, it's even more fun
to create your own!
Most software purporting to help you create multimedia is tedious to use and expensive. But
here's the exception: get Magic Theatre, a CD-ROM disk published by two companies working
together (Knowledge Adventure Inc. and Instinct Corporation). Comp USA's been selling it for
just $35.
Designed for kids, you'll learn how to use it in just a few minutes. It lets you create animated
cartoons with sound, so easily that you can create exciting cartoons after just a few seconds of
The $35 price even includes a microphone, accompanied by a CD-ROM disk that includes lots of
clip art, animated objects, music, and sound effects, which you can combine in just a few seconds
to produce an on-screen animated movie that you'll like a lot better than Saturday morning
cartoons - especially since you created it!
The cartoons you'll produce will seem child-like, but that's their charm!
Try it, you'll like it. If you have kids, the whole family can pitch in to make a family animated
movie. Your neighbors will be jealous.
Tricky applications: multimedia

Tricky applications: multimedia

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